The Power of Lived Experience in Nonprofit Decision-Making

In the realm of nonprofit organizations, mission is key. At Ohio Peer Recovery Organizations (OhioPRO), being mission-driven is about more than just programming and outcomes; it’s also about making sure that individuals with lived experience are included in decision-making processes. These individuals bring unparalleled insights, authenticity, and a depth of understanding that can profoundly shape and enhance the effectiveness of our programs and initiatives. This is why, at OhioPRO, we recommend that 51% of our member organizations’ boards be comprised of those with lived experience.

Lived experience refers to the knowledge and insights gained from personal involvement in specific life situations or challenges. Whether it’s addiction recovery, homelessness, navigating the foster care system, or living with a disability, individuals who have firsthand experience offer a perspective that cannot be replicated by those who have only studied these issues theoretically. When we include people with lived experience in decision-making roles, we ensure that our strategies and solutions are grounded in the reality of those we serve. Their contributions help to highlight potential oversights, challenge assumptions, and inspire innovative approaches that are both practical and empathetic.

Nonprofit programs are designed to serve and support communities facing various challenges. However, without the input of those directly affected by these issues, even the most well-intentioned programs can fall short. Individuals with lived experience can provide crucial insight on what works, what doesn’t, and why. Their contributions can help to identify barriers that might not be immediately apparent to others, even those who have been working in the field for years.

Moreover, maintaining diversity of life experiences and input in decision-making creates rich, thoughtful environments. This inclusivity helps to break down barriers and create a sense of ownership and empowerment among community members, encouraging greater participation and collaboration. Nonprofits have a responsibility to champion equity and inclusion. By involving individuals with lived experience in decision-making, we actively promote these values. We demonstrate a commitment to listening to those who are often marginalized or overlooked and ensure that their voices help shape the solutions to the issues that affect them most directly.

Ensuring individuals with lived experience are present in our organizations also helps to develop a new generation of leaders within the communities that we serve. By providing opportunities for people with lived experience to take on decision-making roles, we empower them to use their insights and unique expertise to drive change, better their community, and take ownership of the work being done in their neighborhoods.

At OhioPRO, incorporating individuals with lived experience into decision-making processes is not merely a token gesture; it is a strategic imperative that enriches our work and enhances our impact. Ensuring their voices are heard on advisory groups, boards, workgroups, and listening sessions is our responsibility. And in return, their unique perspectives bring authenticity, drive innovation, and build trust, making our programs more effective and equitable.

By: Michael Krause, Executive Director, OhioPRO

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